COLLEGE STATION, Texas — No. 7 Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel didn't speak to the media until late November last year because of coach Kevin Sumlin's ban on freshman talking to reporters.
Now he's a sophomore and a Heisman Trophy winner and he's once again being kept from the media. He has served his half-game NCAA suspension and played his first game for the Aggies, but hasn't spoken publicly since SEC media days this summer.
Sumlin said it isn't the right time for Manziel to talk, but that he will talk at some point this year.
"I think it's important now based on where he is that his focus is to try to be our quarterback and a student athlete," Sumlin said. "That's his biggest challenge right now. (It's) not his challenge to be here."
Sumlin also said that the image in the media of Manziel is so negative right now that his talking would not be beneficial.
"I don't think right now that him coming here and saying the words would change some people's opinion about who he is," Sumlin said. "At the appropriate time he'll be able to speak for himself."
He also brushed off the notion that Manziel disrespected him on Saturday by not responding when he talked to him following his fourth-quarter unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"When he came off the field, I basically made two statements to him, neither one of which should he have responded to," Sumlin said. "They weren't questions. They were direct statements and I can't repeat them right now. What's amazing to me is the perception that he ignored me. The worst thing that could have happened was for him to reply based on what I told him."
Manziel sat out the first half of Saturday's win over Rice because of what the school called an "inadvertent" violation of NCAA rules involving signing autographs. Not long after he entered the game in the third quarter he jawed with a Rice defender and appeared to mimic signing an autograph while getting up from a tackle.
His penalty came when he pointed at the scoreboard after throwing his third touchdown pass.
Sumlin said he spoke with several players — not just Manziel — on Monday about how penalties can hurt the entire team and the importance of eliminating them. He said it's a balancing act to keep Manziel from getting in those situations without stifling the exuberance that is part of what has made him so successful.
"Anybody who watches Johnny knows that he plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion," Sumlin said. "Because of that he gets into the gray area. It's my job, it's our job as coaches to keep that passion and energy going, but make it positive."1 comment on this story
Sumlin does understand that Manziel's antics have made things more difficult for the sophomore quarterback. But he also finds it a bit amusing that Manziel's gesture of rubbing his fingers together became such a big deal when several other Aggies as well as players on other teams have been doing the same thing since last season.
"Has he kind of painted himself in a box with that, with some other issues? Probably," Sumlin said. "But no one wants to be more successful than he is. No one is going to play this game harder than he does and his teammates understand that."
Running back Ben Malena agreed and said that the outside perception of Manziel is completely different than his image within the team. He also doesn't mind answering questions about Manziel while the quarterback avoids the press.
"It's just what comes with it," he said. "You want to have a defending Heisman Trophy winner as your quarterback. So it's not bad."